2012 FORD RANGER REVIEW
What’s hot: Bigger, stronger, quieter, car-like refinement with big ute payload
What’s not: Wheel that only adjusts for rake (not reach), more expensive than HiLux
X-Factor: Looks tough, is tough; but it’s not only tradies who are gonna love this truck
Price: $55,390 (XLT auto), $43,890 (XL manual)
Fuel Consumption (claimed): 9.2 l/100km (auto)
Fuel consumption (on test): 9.9 l/100km (auto)
Strong, tough, refined, and quieter than all, the Ford Australia-designed and engineered new Ranger is a generation ahead of each.
And with optional six-speed auto, 470Nm of torque and a 3.35 tonne braked towing capacity for the 3.2 litre diesel tested here, it is perhaps two generations ahead of the HiLux (its recent update notwithstanding).
But will it outsell the HiLux? Only the brave would make that call. As we commented in reviewing the updated HiLux, its reputation as a tough, reliable work-companion is deserved. That's why it has ruled the segment for 14 years.
We put the new Ranger XLT and XL twin-cab 4x4s through their paces on the highway around the Adelaide Hills, and off-road into some challenging tracks and trails through the Flinders Rangers.
It was impossible not to be impressed. We were expecting the Ranger to be good, but few could have expected how good. For engineering, for practical work-horse capability and refinement, Ford has leap-frogged every other contender in the sector. Bar none.
Quality: The XLT Ranger's interior is both well-designed and well put-together. But while it's good, it doesn't kill the opposition. I would give the nod to the Amarok over the Ranger for interior feel.
The new Ranger does however beat the HiLux, Triton and Navara for trim quality and for the clean lines and shapes of the interior: from the stippled sloping dash to the brushed metal centre stack, instrument bezels, and satin metal highlights to the doors.
It’s a pretty nice place to be, whether in XLT or XL configuration.
Comfort: With wide-opening doors, well-padded seats and appealing tactile surfaces - like 'cold-feel' door handles, appealing seat fabrics, padded door-rests – the Ranger XLT feels more like a modern sedan than a ‘fourby’ ute, both for the snug ambience of the interior, and for its isolation and refinement.
And, front and back, it’s roomy. The B-pillars have been moved forward in the twin-cab to create larger rear-door openings and larger rear glass. The doors open ‘square’, at close to 90-degrees, to make getting in and out easier.
And, in the back, there’s ample room for Lenny, Dags and Gino (we put a 6'2" guinea-pig in there for a knee and headroom check), and oodles of room for the young family.
A debit is that the steering-wheel adjusts for rake only, and not reach, and the carpets are commercial fare (for those who care about carpet).
Features: Besides the obvious like bigger tyres, alloy wheels, three-bar chrome grille and stepped rear bumper, the XLT carries a higher grade of trim, metal garnishes to the interior and doors, and a much longer feature list.
The XLT comes with steering wheel mounted audio and cruise control and Bluetooth with voice-control. There is a 4.2-inch colour screen, rain-sensing wipers, a clever ‘joy-stick’ control in the centre-stack, iPod and MP3 CD audio system, and automatic locking doors on driveaway.
There are other smart touches like regenerative charging when decelerating (common to all models) and alarm with motion sensors (to keep the tools better secured).
Storage: The double-cab tub is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide, 1139 between the wheel-arches and 511mm deep. This makes it one of the biggest in its class for cubic capacity and capable of taking a payload of 1148kg.
For trade buyers, or those looking to tow something seriously big, the new Ranger comes with a 3.35 tonne braked towing capacity which monsters most of its nearest competitors.
Lift up the rear seats and you'll find storage compartments (to keep valuables out of sight), fold the backs forward and you'll find more stowage space. The glovebox is designed to take a lap-top computer and the centre-console is vented to the air-con to keep drinks cool.
There are drinks holders in the console, bottle holders in the doors, and drinks holders in a folding arm-rest for rear-seat passengers.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Here, on road, this is where the Ranger crushes the opposition. Its 3.2 litre I5 diesel is simply a cracking unit.
With 147kW and 470Nm, it's strong, strongest of its natural enemies – only the Navara 3.0DT V6 diesel gives it any heat – but it's far and away the quietest and smoothest of all.
Mated to the six-speed auto, it pulls like a train on the tarmac. We did a looping run with 800kg in the rear tub; and quite simply forgot about it.
The Ranger barely knew it was there, it still pulled effortlessly, retained its on-road compliance, and only on tight corners was it apparent there was “something in the back”.
The 6R80 six-speed transmission has both Sport and Normal modes. It is simply a matter of flicking the lever and, if left in Sport, upshifts occur later, or you can paddle it up and down through the gears manually.
It also comes with ‘grade logic control’ which automatically downshifts on descents or into corners (making towing a safer proposition).
Refinement: Is this the most refined diesel in the commercial 4X4 class? We'd reckon it is. Clatter, that diesel thing, is all-but absent. Away from idle, at highway speeds, or grinding up a steep incline, it rarely sounds stretched or harsh and is more refined than what you'll find under the bonnet of a lot of up-market, expensive family sedans.
On-road, the interior is well isolated not only from road shocks and mechanical harshness (fluid-filled body mounts at work here) but also from road-roar and wind noise.
And, thanks to the tub design, even when travelling at well-above normal highway speeds, whistling or wind-shear that can occasionally be generated between the tub and the passenger compartment has been engineered out.
Suspension: With coil-over shocks double wishbone front suspension, rack and pinion steering, the Ranger drives more like a car than a commercial ute.
The turning circle is reasonably tight, and, while there is not a lot of feedback through the wheel on the highway, it's about right off-road.
Braking: That three-plus tonne braked towing capacity not only demands a strong chassis, but strong braking performance. While the pedal is more commercial underfoot than car-like, it's not heavy and has a progressive feel.
We found the braking fade free and, even when clearly working overtime on the longer looser descents (rattling on and off with the traction control), on no occasion were we left with a wooden pedal feel at the bottom.
Off-Road: You can flick between 2H and 4H at up to 110km/h. Great when belting along a gravel road, and the additional traction and control is felt instantly.
For 4L, it’s a matter of coming to a stop, slipping to neutral then engaging the transfer case via a switchable button on the console. Sure beats fiddling about with a lever.
Off-road, in four-low, diff-lock engaged, with those 470 Newton-metres all working quietly at your disposal, a rigid chassis and with long wheel articulation, you can pick your way up and over almost anything.
It’s so capable, it takes the challenge – and consequently some of the fun – out of it. But you’re gonna love it if you’re dragging a heavy boat up a slippery boat ramp or hauling a Bobcat out of a sodden building site.
Transfer-case, drivetrain, oil pan and fuel tank are tucked inside the side rails for better off-road protection. Minimum ground clearance is 230mm with 16-inch wheels fitted, more of course in the XLT with its 17-inch rims.
We found the bump-stops only once, and had no trouble stepping up and over some pretty steep, rock-strewn pinches.
Also, while we didn’t have the opportunity to test it out, with an 800mm wading line, the Ranger comes with the deepest water fording capability in its class.
ANCAP RATING: Not yet rated.
Safety features: The Ranger comes loaded with all the expected safety features, and some unexpected.
The expected include front, side and curtain airbags, pretensioning seat-belts and child restraint anchorages. Also expected is electronic stability control, ABS, EBD and traction control.
Less expected is the adaptive load control, trailer sway control (using the ABS and ESC to stabilise and prevent jack-knifing when towing – a potential life-saver for those towing large caravans and boats) with roll-over mitigation control, and rear park assist and rear-view camera system.
It also comes with hill-descent control and hillstart assist.
In the manual, we tried the hill-descent control in ‘angel’. That is, we pushed it out of gear on a steep – like really steep – rock-strewn descent and took the foot off the brake. This messes with the head big-time: no trouble, gravity, traction control and ABS simply conveyed us to the floor of the valley. All we did was steer.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Servicing: Capped-price servicing across the range, service intervals 15,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES: VALUE FOR MONEY
The update to the HiLux saw Toyota revise its pricing down across the range. Nissan and Mitsubishi also have some very attractive price discounts at the moment for the Triton and Navara.
The new Ranger is more expensive than most – it's priced more in line with the Amarok – but packages a lot more car into the money, and a lot more appeal.
Ford is building terrific cars at the moment. Can you find a dud in the range? And Ford Australia engineers have dropped two absolutely stand-out cars into our laps this year: The Territory, and now the Ranger.
Of those two, the Ranger is the greater achievement. Starting from a clean sheet of paper, and seven years in the making, this is one exceptional dual-cab ute - in both XLT and XL configuration.
Unless Holden has something absolutely magical up its sleeve with the new Colorado, Ford’s Ranger will remain head and shoulders above everything in the sector.
HiLux deserves its four-star rating. It has pounded its usurpers mercilessly for nearly two decades. But Ford’s new Ranger is a game-changer.
This is the best dual-cab diesel 4X4 ute you can buy at the moment. But don’t believe a word of this review; when it hits Ford showrooms, go and have a look for yourself.